Taste of Sunshine: Oranges and Citrus Fruits
Orange is the symbol of Antalya despite having a relatively recent past in the region. The first orange groves were planted around 1930’s, and its cultivation was further promoted by the Citrus Institute established in 1936. While the orange is a rather new fruit in the region, bitter oranges have been adorning the city since middle ages.
Bitter oranges, aka Seville oranges, like all other citrus fruits, originated in China, and they appeared in North Africa and the Meditterranean basin starting from the 7th century. Other citrus fruits like lemon and citron followed the spread of bitter oranges. According to the Byzantian writer Leonthios Macharias, lemons were named Addalia in Egypt after the city of Antalya. Acquisition of lemons and citrons appear in Ottoman court registrars starting from the 15th century. Citron was used to make jam in Topkapi Palace, and bitter orange water was used to flavour sweets just like rose water. The famous 17th century Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi records that barrels of lemon juice had been transported from Antalya region to the Topkapi Palace.
Oranges were first brought to the Mediterranean by the Portugese navigators via the Cape of Good Hope around 1500’s. It took almost two centuries for the first oranges to appear in Ottoman sources in 1700’s. The Turkish word for orange, portakal, like in many Mediterranean languages, derives its name after Portugal. The once expensive novelty orange became widespread by the establishment of the Citrus Institute. The Golden Orange Film Festival, first initiated in 1963, has been instrumental to make the orange the symbol of the city.
Sweet Moments: Fruit Preserves and Jams
Around the vicinities of Burdur and Isparta, other delicacies come in the form of rose petal jam, white cherry preserves and sour cherry jam. When the jam or preserve is made with grape molasses (pekmez) instead of sugar, it bears the name bestel, instead of the usual reçel, the Turkish generic word for jam or preserve. One particular technique, the hidden secret behind these sweet gems, is the treatment of the preserves in slaked lime water. By this method the morsels retain crunchiness and an amazing glassy texture. In the old times, wher sugar was scarce and costly, grape or carob molasses was used as a substitude. This tradition of using molasses in jams brings in a great depth of flavour and still preferred in rural settlements.Antalya is famous for its jewel-like fruit preserves. Serving sweet fruit preserves to guests is a ritual in itself, a delightful way of demonstrating Turkish hospitality. Exquisite citrus preserves like Seville orange, grapefruit, bergamot, citron and orange peel confitures are like gems on a plate. Lemon and orange flowers are made into a divinely fragrant jam. All fruit preserves are astonishingly pretty and delicious, but it is the unusal ones like baby eggplant, watermelon rind, pumpkin and date that are worth a special mention. The most exciting of all has to be the blackish preserves from the unripe green walnuts still in the shell and the shockingly green little unripe figs. In Antalya, the sweet preserves are offered in silver and crystal sets, artisanally made for the purpose, a very refined way of expressing respect and warmth to your guests.
Bitter Orange Preserves
8-10 bitter orangesBitter oranges, also known as Seville oranges adorn the city streets like golden globes throughout the autumn and winter months. This jam can be made with other citrus fruits like orange, lemon, citron, bergamot or grapefruit. Citrus peel preserves make ideal treats to accompany Turkish coffee.
1 kg sugar
2 cups water
-Wash and dry the bitter oranges. Grate only the coloured part of the orange zest with a fine grater. Reserve the grated peel for another recipe, to use in cakes, cookies, desserts or drinks.
-Cut a slice on the stem end of the orange, and slit the peel with a sharp peeling knife lengthways into eight segments. Loosen the segments from the top and strip the peel from the fruit.
-Roll each segment and thread the rolled pieces into a necklace like string, using a cotton thread and pack needle. Soak the stringed peels in a big bowl of water, putting a plate and heavy weight on top.
-Change the soaking water of the peels every day for three days. This will get the bitterness out, if you prefer a bit of the bitterness you may reduce the soaking time. Alternately, you can briefly blanch the peels in boiling water and keep only for a day in fresh water.
-Drain the peel rolls, unthread and put in a very large shallow enamel pan or bowl. Pour the sugar over, cover and let it stand overnight for the juices to ooze out.
-Next day, transfer to a heavy pan, add two cups of sugar and simmer for an hour or so, skimming the foam occasionally. When the rolls are translucent, the preserve is almost ready. Add the juice of half a lemon and bring to a rapid boil for a few minutes, turn off the heat.
-Ladle the preserves into sterilized jars while still hot. Seal and store in a cool dry place.
Cool refreshments have always been the joy of people in hot summer months. Throughout the history, the coastal areas of Antalya were dependent on supplies from the high mountain areas to provide relief from the scorching heat of the sun. The cold of the mountains arrived in the cities in the form of ice blocks and compressed snow, and cool fresh water flowed down via aqua ducts and arcs. Snow and ice was harvested from snow-capped high mountains and was brought to the cities wrapped in layers of felt and hay to prevent them from melting. This habit is a tradition that dates back to ancient times, and for centuries, harvesting snow and keeping it for the summer was the only way to have cool refreshments on hot days. The snow-wells or deep chasms in caves, where the snow was pressed down and stored for summer use, are also the ideal natural cool storage places for dairy products, butter, cheese etc.
Ice-cream is an inevitable invention when snow is put into culinary use. The ancestor of all ice-creams might have well originated here, where snow or freshly shaved ice is put into bowls, and drenched with a liberal dose of molasses, honey or fruit syrup. Also referred to as “snow halva”, this method was very common here in the Taurus Mountains, as well as in Istanbul and other parts of Anatolia. Flavouring snow with sweet syrups paved the way for Ottoman sherbets, and eventually for Italian sorbets, sharing the same word root. It is still a great tradition in Antalya to serve sherbet—fruit or flower syrups poured over crushed ice.
The mountains also provided abundant fresh goat milk, and the mixing of creamy milk, ice and the rare beauty sahlep, resulted in the most delicious ice-creams. Sahlep, the dried tuber of the pretty purple wild orchid flower gives the Turkish ice-cream its exciting stretchy texture and subtle unique flavour. Antalya, Korkuteli and Elmalı are famous for their ice-cream, in particular the smoky milk ice-cream which is an outstanding taste experience. The slightly burnt flavour of goat milk heated in huge copper cauldrons imparts a smoked aroma to the ice-cream, a unique specialty.